By John Bacon and Josh Farley, USA TODAY
An Amtrak train on its inaugural run derailed south of Seattle on Monday, causing multiple deaths and injuries as rail cars plunged off a bridge over a traffic-clogged interstate, authorities said.
AT least five vehicles on I-5 were struck by derailed train cars tumbling down from the tracks above, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer said.
“We have multiple fatals on the train, no fatals on the roadway,” Troyer said.
He said the number of fatalities on the southbound train had not been determined.
The Associated Press, citing a federal officials briefed on the investigation, said at least six people had died.
Amtrak Train 501 left Seattle at 6 a.m. local time as a new and controversial, high-speed service to Portland designed to avoid sharp curves, freight traffic and other obstacles that could slow the trip.
Amtrak tracking data indicate the train was traveling at about 81 mph at the time of the wreck.
(Audio has been released of the Amtrak train conductor’s radio transmission call reporting the derailment south of Tacoma, Washington. Courtesy of CNN and YouTube. Posted on Dec 18, 2017)
The state Transportation Department said federal funds were used to upgrade the tracks for passenger train use and that the Federal Railroad Administration had monitored the work.
“Today was the first day of public use of the tracks after weeks of inspection and testing,” the department said in a statement.
Anthony Raimondi, a retired Amtrak employee, was riding in business class and suffered a bruised leg.
He said the train rounded a curve when it began to wobble. Then it fell on its side.
“It just seemed to be going around the corner very fast and tipping over,” he said.
The lights went out and another passenger kicked out a window. He said most people in his car weren’t hurt.
“I feel very lucky,” he said.
President Trump weighed in on Twitter, saying the crash shows the crucial need for infrastructure improvements.
“The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly,” Trump tweeted.
“Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!”
Later, he tweeted condolences to those involved and thanked first responders for their efforts.
Interstate 5 southbound near DuPont, about 50 miles south of Seattle, was closed after the derailment “and will be for some time,” Troyer said.
He said the derailment took place at about 7:40 a.m. local time.
Amtrak said 78 passengers and a crew of five were on the train.
Dozens of first-responders swarmed the scene, and some of the injured could be seen limping or being carried from the crash site.
Some people who exited the train stood, wrapped in blankets, under temporary tents.
The rescue effort was continuing hours after the derailment, and a family reunification center was operating out of City Hall in DuPont, a town of fewer than 10,000 people.
Scott Claggett, a software salesman, was taking the train to Portland for a business meeting. He reported feeling the train start to lean to the left.
The train “kind of buckled,” he said, windows started to shatter, and “people started flying left and right.”
“I crawled underneath a table and at that point, I was wishing and praying that it was going to stop because I’m still alive – I think – you know, because it’s just so surreal,” Claggett said.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency and urged commuters to avoid the area during the “ongoing and serious situation.”
(The mayor of Lakewood, Washington was critical of the safety of the new Amtrak line two weeks before the route opened. Courtesy of Fox News and YouTube. Posted on Dec 18, 2017)
An investigative “go-team” was being assembled at the scene, said Bella Dinh-Zarr, a National Transportation Safety Board member.
Amtrak said its service south of Seattle was suspended. Service from Seattle to points north and east continued to operate.
Amtrak Cascades trains connect 18 cities along the I-5 corridor including Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Ore.
Trump proposed a $630 million cut in Amtrak subsidies for long-distance service – nearly half the $1.4 billion provided the previous year – by arguing the trains are often late and operate at a loss.
“Amtrak’s long distance trains do not serve a vital transportation purpose, and are a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option,” according to his budget plan.
Farley reported for the Kitsap Sun from DuPont; Bacon for USA TODAY from McLean, Va. Contributing: Bart Jansen, USA TODAY